By Rev Fr. John-Brian Paprock
[Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock received the "Middleton Good Neighbor Award" in a ceremony at the Good Neighbor Festival on Sunday, August 24, 2008. GNF Committee President Rich Schmidt said the committee voted "unanimously and without hesitation" to present the award to Fr. Paprock, who was nominated by retired Boy Scout Troop 940 Scoutmaster Ron Berman, with whom he worked for many years. Schmidt said Rev . Paprock "is truly an asset to our community." The GNF Committee gives three Good Neighbor awards each year. More information: http://maruroopa.blogspot.com/2008/09/orthodox-priest-wins-community-award.html ]
One of the families that live in a duplex down the street came up to congratulate me on this award. They had seen the picture in the local paper. I was pleased to see them and was honored that they took the time. I said, trying to be gracious, "Well, being a Good Neighbor requires neighbors and I am blessed you are our neighbors."
When the Good Neighbor Festival president, Rich Schmidt, called me a few weeks earlier, I was a bit surprised. I asked, "Why me?" He said that Middleton has a long tradition of recognizing exemplary voluntary service to the community and that he had several pages of an extensive history of service to the community. I was surprised that he would have such a history. Apparently, my wife had conspired with Ron Berman to make my nomination. I must have hesitated, because he asked if I would accept the award. "If it would help others to serve the community, I am honored," I said. Serving others is one of the oldest and most endearing traditions of Christianity. As Christians, we should not avoid being seen in our service, but we should do it for the glory of God and the welfare of our neighbors, that is "everyone." Service, as I was taught by my spiritual elders, is doing the right thing for the right reason. It should be action taken as an expression of our inner life, our spiritual development, our religious tradition. It should be guided by the Holy Spirit and guarded with prayer. Whom we serve and how we serve will be unique to our gifts and abilities.
Another neighbor, reading through the published list of my volunteer activities, said, "wow, you have done a lot." Only by the mercy and support of God, but also by being willing to serve God and humanity. When I was young, we were poor and often had nothing to put into the basket at church. One time, I cried to the priest and said that if I had anything I would give it. He smiled and said, "There are many ways to give to God and the church. Money is only one." He suggested many simple things that I could do, including serving around the altar. I tried them all. Later, during pastoral studies, the bishop would give me a weekly "podvich" - a spiritual chore, usually simple and humble, like cleaning the floors of the chapel or accompanying someone who needed help getting to services. I was instructed to do these things prayerfully, either singing hymns or repeating a simple prayer or even with spiritual dialogue.
This has been the mode and method of my service since I was a child. Of course, circumstances change and so I have moved from project to project, or rather podvich to podvich. Sometimes, I have asked the Lord why he led me to this or that, but even without clarity I have done the chores - from the simplest physical labor to complex organizational development and event
There is an aspect of Christian service that makes it quite different that secular or other forms of community work. It is a quality of self-emptying to allow God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) to be manifest in the midst of our labor. To be assured that whatever good has come of my activities, the credit is due to my Creator who made me, to my Savior who teaches me by His example, to the Holy Spirit who inspires me, gives me insight, courage and strength to serve.
Another aspect of Christian service is in the fundamental understanding that serving others IS serving God. God desires to be in relationship and there is no better way than to be in our neighborhoods, our homes, our cities and towns - to be everywhere we are. One of the reasons for the incarnation of Christ is to establish a living relationship with us in this world. We were
not created separated from God, but have become separated, born into this world. God joined us and walked with us and among us and left us with the commandment of love - to love one another. He challenged His followers to view everyone through His eyes. To engage us in relationship, He said, "What you have done to the least of humanity you have done to me." I have learned, although not always able to practice effectively, that this is only possible if I respond to the needs of humanity with honesty about my limitations and abilities. There is always more to do, righteous causes to join, families in need, etc.
But this is not a challenge only for clergy and monastics, it is a challenge for everyone who claims the benefits of being Christian, a member of the Church. It should be no great effort to serve, for in all our relations, we seek relationship with the divine. By honoring that, we honor God's goodness, mercy and loving-kindness. If we are recognized for doing that, let us be gracious and not hide this light under a bushel. It is all part of God's blessing to all of us - that His love be manifest in the simple things as in the great things. There is no difference between a little
miracle and a big one in Christ. We ought to be as grateful for the small miracles as we are for the big ones for no miracle, regardless of size, is deserved or earned. In serving humanity, we participate in miracles every day.
Under a green and white tent at the outdoor ceremony during Good Neighbor Festival, I bowed my head, shook Rich Schmidt's hand, said "Thank you." Then, I returned to face painting to raise funds for scouting.